With China’s box office setting a record high for a single day on Monday, it is Huallywood rather than Hollywood that is cashing in. On the first day of the Year of the Monkey, Chinese box offices took 660 million yuan (US$100.5 million) – smashing the previous record of 425 yuan on July 18, 2015. And the biggest hits were Chinese produced. Director Stephen Chow’s The Mermaid topped the box office on its Monday premiere with takings of 270 million yuan, setting a new record for domestic made movies on a single day. From Vegas to Macao 3 and The Monkey King 2 also debuted on Monday, each taking more than 100 million yuan. The Monkey King 2, starring Hong Kong actor Aaron Kwok Fu-shing and mainland actress Gong Li, is the latest offering from Wuxi Studios – known as Huallywood because of its aspiration to rival the home of the American film industry. The fantasy epic is being promoted as having the best special effects yet of any Chinese-produced film. The “studio” is actually an industrial park, rather than one individual studio, which comprises about 300 filmmaking companies that specialise mostly in digital production. Located in the south of the city, a 90-minute drive from Shanghai, Wuxi Studios was set up more than three years ago and has yet to hit the headlines because of the box-office success of its films. However it believes its first “basically independently made” film, based on the classic Chinese fantasy novel, Journey to the West, will help to establish its name. READ MORE: Film review: The Monkey King 2 – Aaron Kwok takes lead in vastly improved fantasy sequel The Monkey King 2 – a sequel to the hit 2014 film, The Monkey King – tells the story of the fight between the Monkey King (Kwok) and a shape-shifting demoness, the White Bone Spirit (Gong), who wants to eat the flesh of the Monkey King’s master, Xuanzang. Filming began at Wuxi Studio, where digital effects for its productions are used to create virtual sets on various soundstages, began in late 2014 and later moved to New Zealand. Later 3D special effects were added. Shi Juan, general manager of Wuxi Studios, said the aim of the 1.5 billion-yuan government project was to cultivate a top-class digital film production industry in the world’s fastest-growing film market. “We focus on digital film production, which is a high-end manufacturing industry that the municipal government encourages,” she said. “This is in line with Wuxi’s economic transformation.” Wuxi Studios, housed within an old steel plant complex, epitomises the struggles of the city, lying next to the Yangtze River, to transform its traditional economic focus from low-end industries making clothing and machines towards new tech-intensive sectors. Over the past five years the city’s high-tech sectors have helped industrial output to rise slowly from 34 per cent to more than 41 per cent, according to official figures. However, economic growth of 7.1 per cent recorded in 2015 was below the municipal government’s annual target of 8 per cent. Nevertheless, with about 200 films partly produced by Huallywood so far, it was already proving “a shining example” of the city’s burgeoning development, said Wuxi Studio’s vice-general manager Wang Fei. Wuxi Studios is one of the mainland’s three major film-making centres – another is based in Huairou, in Beijing, and the other in Hengdian, in Zhejiang province. Wang said the development of Wuxi’s film industry had been helped by the huge growth in box-office takings across the mainland and also the increasing popularity among audiences of mainland-produced films. Films shown on the mainland earned 10 billion yuan in 2010, but in 2015 the box-office takings surged to 44 billion yuan, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television reported. More than 60 per cent of the 2015 earnings was earned by mainland-produced films. Monster Hunt , a Chinese-Hong Kong 3D fantasy action comedy, was the most popular film shown at mainland cinema’s in 2015, earning a record 2.4 billion yuan, slightly ahead of the Hollywood action movie Furious 7 . Qin Shulang, head of distribution at Beijing Anshi Yingna Entertainment, which is promoting The Monkey King 2 , said she and her colleagues expected the sequel to earn about 2 billion yuan because of the positive response of audiences at preview screenings. “We wanted to set a milestone for China’s movie industry in terms of special effects,” she said. “We daren’t compare it with Hollywood movies, but we’re heading in the right direction.” However, some observers think differently. Lu Peng, director of the Journalism and Communications Centre at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said he doubted the accuracy of box-office figures of some mainland-produced movies, and claimed they were “shockingly high”. Despite predictions of future success for China’s film industry, the mainland still lagged far behind the US or South Korea in terms of post production, he said. Shi Linfeng, a movie enthusiast in Shanghai, said: “To me, the huge box office takings indicate that the number of cinema screens on the mainland is increasing fast and consumers are getting richer, but not that our art or technology used in film making is improving at the same pace.” “China is still too far away from living up to a name like Huallywood,” he said.